Since 1930, Disney movies have been known for encouraging imagination and instilling good values to children and children at heart. But to autistic Owen Suskind, a Disney film is more than just a creativity booster or valuable entertainment. It’s actually his cinematic manual to decipher the world; his cinematic compass to navigate life.
It’s not every day that people get to see a documentary that attempts to document the extraordinary. Joining several other titles nominated for Best Documentary (Feature), Life, Animated aspired to touch a theme that is not commonly discussed out loud: Autism.
The documentary follows the journey of Owen Suskind—an autistic millennial who strived creatively to understand life. As the director smoothly weaved Owen’s milestones—from his childhood struggles to his new challenges as a young adult, a seamless, better-than-Disney film emerges from the screen.
Unable to speak as a child, the world of Owen's family fell apart. Their frustration deepened when Owen was diagnosed with autism. At first, it was a great struggle for all of them to connection with each other. But eventually, by their efforts, Owen and his family found a way to bridge their gap. Not giving up on each other paid off.
Owen’s obsession with Disney films has been a great starting point for his parents to understand him. While the doctor interpreted Owen’s way of saying a script from The Little Mermaid as echolalia, his parents have seen this as his attempt to communicate and express. For the first time, Owen was able to look directly at his parents’ eyes when they said the phrase from the movie.
For the first time, they understood each other. Who could have imagined that a single line from a Disney film could connect people from opposite worlds?
Experts say that autistic people have at least one affinity. This certain affinity, viewed as “non-productive obsession” by many, can actually help an autistic individual grow both personally and socially. In Owen’s case, his strong liking to Disney films helped him understand the world. It also inspired him to start his own Disney club, where he met his girlfriend. The club was also able to help other individuals with special needs who share the interest.
Life, Animated is a heartfelt experience as spectators feel what it’s like to see through the eyes of Owen Suskind. His journey is an inspirational proof of perseverance, acceptance, understanding, and being proud of one’s uniqueness.